scientists said on Tuesday that the Phoenix Mars Lander has detected the
apparent presence of a chemically reactive salt called perchlorate in the
Martian soil. Perchlorate is a toxic material that's used in rocket fuel, but
the scientists said its presence doesn't lessen the possibility that Mars has
or once had some kind of life on it. VOA's Art Chimes reports.
sounds like nasty stuff. It's used in pyrotechnic devices like fireworks and
automobile air bags. It's found in soil here on earth mainly in extremely dry
climates, including the Atacama Desert in Chile, where the soil has been
described as Mars-like.
just because it's toxic doesn't mean that life can't exist around perchlorates,
says Phoenix scientist Sam Kounaves of Tufts University.
are actually a large number of plants that ... grow in perchlorate at certain
levels," he said. "It's a benign chemical in terms of most
perchlorate was a surprise to the Phoenix scientists, says principal
investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona.
is something that caught me by surprise. ... I had to go straight back to the
textbooks and figure out what this material is. So it's been quite an education
over the last few weeks."
Phoenix lander was designed to look for signs of water — not perchlorates or
signs of life.
said Tuesday's conference call briefing for reporters was a break with
scientific tradition since the analysis of the apparent perchlorate findings
was still a work in progress, with more confirmation tests still needed.
organized the briefing after several days of Internet rumors about some big
discovery on Mars, so big that even the White House had been given a special
briefing. But NASA spokesman Dwayne Brown said there was nothing to the
the White House nor the president's science advisor was briefed on this,"
he told reporters.
scientists still have more tests to do to confirm the presence of perchlorates.
They're also unclear if the small area around the Phoenix lander is
representative of the rest of Mars.